Selected Writings of Père Berto


“From this Christmas Eve, 1914”

24th December, 1936

It was during Midnight Mass – twenty-two years ago now – that the good Lord Jesus called me. I had just turned fourteen. What a memory!

It was at the moment of Communion, when the priest turned towards the faithful, carrying the ciborium. I knew in an instant, with a dramatic certainty, that I was destined for the priesthood.

Certainly, after nearly eleven years of being a priest, I have been given enough proof that I am well fitted to my vocation. And yet I cannot say that I know it now any better than I knew it that evening. Nothing can adequately express that divine clarity.

At first, I was more surprised than won over. Consider that, like many schoolboys of my age, I had hardly very much faith; that I had never spoken a single word to a priest (apart from during my confessions, which were always brief and few and far between); that never even a shadow of an idea of a priestly vocation had entered my mind.

This came like a thunderbolt. Literally my entire life had been decided in the space of a second. I can truthfully say that I was pole-axed, that I went from one extreme to another in a whirlwind. O Blessed be the Lord Jesus forever!

This evening, in the presence of X, whom you have entrusted to me as a sacred gift, and of whom I must give account at your judgment, I renew my commitments, everything that you have prepared for me – I accept it all, I welcome it all, the joys, the pain, the suffering and gladness, the work and the rest, everything at your pleasure, and for you, Lord Jesus, and in you.

As for you, I give you the task of witnessing these commitments. And may your witness be a favourable one on my final day. Remember that God prepared me for you when you were not yet born, when you existed only in his eternal mind. From that Christmas night of 1914, our good Lord Jesus taught me to pray for those souls who would one day be entrusted to me.

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 51.


Letter to Monseigneur Gouraud, Bishop of Vannes
“From this beloved house”

The façade of the French seminary

Rome, Séminaire français, 28th December, 1925


For the final time, the filial greetings which I have offered to Your Grace at the start of the new year will come from Rome, and from this beloved house, where I have spent my clerical formation. These few words “for the final time” come to my lips every memorable evening of our life at the seminary, and for me, here, my joy is complete.

I have loved this house too much – if it is possible – and I do not know how I would be able to leave, if I did not force myself, on the one hand, to detach myself a little more each day, and if, on the other hand, I did not keep my eyes fixed on the Brittany coast, and if I did not hear the call of souls coming from there, to me here.

As far as human plans can be relied upon, this year will not elapse without my ordination to the priesthood, nor without receiving from Your Grace my affiliation to your diocese.

In six or seven months, whenever you decide, I will be given a position – as Saint Peter said to Our Lord – “In verbo tua laxabo rete”. The closeness and imminence of the first day of my ministry, whatever it may be, strengthens my resolutions and renders them more all-encompassing.

My ardent desire for the fruitfulness and welfare of your ministry is also increased, because is it not upon this, thanks to the divine union established between priests and their Bishop, that the fruitfulness and welfare of our own priesthood depends?

I therefore unite my wishes, Monseigneur, with those of my fellow seminarians, who will come under the same fold. At the same time that we express our good wishes, as a witness of our veneration and our devotion, we offer them also to Our Blessed Mother and St Anne, who are the special patrons of your diocese, and we have great confidence that we will be heard in Heaven, since we entreat for Your Grace that which she herself desires- the graces which she requires for the governing of the diocese.

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 58

Chaplain to the ursuline sisters at vannes

On Classical Studies
addressed to a young girl of fourteen, who would later become one of the first Dominicaines du Saint Esprit.

14th February, 1936

It is your duty to study. Above all, do not be passive. The main fruit of secondary education, in my eyes, is the desire for truth, not accepting everything open-mouthed, but personally assimilating, re-thinking, checking and finding out for yourself. I have so many things to say to you about this, as long as you will permit me.

I would add that, in the actual practice of learning, one must be spontaneous and full of initiative. If you only read the ‘selected texts’ that are studied in class, what riches you will have lost! If you only memorize those texts that you are obliged to learn, what meagre fare! You should read everything you have got from cover to cover – in French, in Latin and in English.

Consider that in quatrième, (when I was only eleven years old), I undertook to learn Athalie by heart, from start to finish. To help me memorize it, I invented a sort of melody, to which I sang my Racine. And so the main result was that I started to greatly enjoy the restraint, the measuredness, the discretion of the classics, and this preserved me from any romantic afflictions. I could never, even at fourteen or fifteen years old, esteem Victor Hugo or Lamartine higher than Racine. I sensed in them too much of a pat lyricism, a false emotion and the very worst sort of counterfeit – a counterfeit sincerity.

There were other benefits of my way of studying. I managed to learn a myriad of texts, and through them, a myriad of ideas; it enabled me to work from memory, it gave me a horror of the ‘more or less’, it made me realise the need to go back to the sources, never to judge something on an extract alone, and I would add, it gave me a refined pleasure in all genres of beauty, without prejudice.

Provided that one has a clear and firm judgment, one can move forward. You will sometimes go through more chaotic periods, but you will get through them very well. You must read with the intention of learning by heart everything that you read. Obviously you won’t achieve this. But the intention is nevertheless very helpful. One always remembers at least a few fragments, and above all, this habit multiplies the power of concentration, and makes everything one tries to do a little easier.

Fill your head with Latin texts. The readings in the missal are excellent for vocabulary, but for syntax one should rather get to know Cicero, Caesar, Livy and Pliny the Younger, etc.

I would advise the same for English. But here, it is above all the poetry that one must learn. You need to enjoy every language that you study, and to achieve this, when one does not speak the language often, there is only one way – to learn by heart. This is quite an undertaking. But I am not expecting you to do it all in one day! Everything can be summed up in one phrase – activity of the mind.

Correspondence Notre Dame de Joie, p. 98.

The Fraternity of the Dominicaines
“Monseigneur has just agreed”.

21st January, 1943.

Monseigneur has just agreed that the Dominican Order will aggregate the group of tertiaries of Notre Dame de Joie as one of the secular fraternities of the Dominican Order. At the same time that you are increased by belonging to this great order, it too increases through you. Ah, that it may truly grow! May you be in the order, and through it, at the heart of the One True Church, as living and working cells, a hub of energy, of supernatural intelligence, and of love.

All my prayers this evening are directed to Our Lady, and to Saint Dominic, to Saint Thomas Aquinas, to the great saints of the order, so that you, and those who come after you, will never be stunted offshoots, degenerate children of Saint Dominic, but recognizable at first glance as offspring in his image.

Dominicaines of the Holy Virgin of Joy, whether you remain a small group or become a large number, may your father Saint Dominic, and your brothers and sisters in Heaven, receive from you a new jewel for their crown.

Personally, as well as gratitude, I feel this evening an immense relief. Certainly I was ready, if God had thus ordained it, to withstand the humiliation of an obvious set-back before the whole Church (this is a trivial matter, and indeed, humiliation is extremely beneficial so as not to become complacent.) However the fear was heavy and oppressive, of having led you down a blind alley, of having made you lose a part of your life (here, again, only in appearance, because everything turns to good for those who love God, and the false steps themselves can be true and great steps on the transcendent path of love, but this type of progress is extremely painful, and requires great heroism.)

For so long, everything had seemed closed to us! We had to hope against hope. But now, a pathway is open, wide and sure, latum mandatum tuum nimis, it is the narrow path, and at the same time it is the path which Saint Dominic paved, following the way of the Gospels, to go to the Lord. We can only see the route up as far as the closest milestone, it is true, but you are on the route, and we must give thanks, give thanks, and give thanks again, without ceasing.

The rest will reveal itself in its own time; for now, we hope against hope, and now there is something specific for which to hope: “the one who has accomplished in you a good work, will bring it to the fore on the day of Christ Jesus.” For, “the gifts of God are made without repentance”. The word which he utters is never revoked, nor is it ever uttered uselessly, and the first thanks for his kindness must be a reason to add another, providing that it corresponds, as I know you are all determined that it shall.

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 155.

Chaplain to the Ursuline sisters at vannes

To the bursar of Notre Dame de Joie at La Bousselaie
“Ten thousand francs from Saint Joseph”

13th March, 1938

Mademoiselle Waquet has let me know that the Savings Bank of Lorient has approved a grant to us of TEN THOUSAND FRANCS!!!

You must admit that this is very kind, so get down on your knees and thank Our Lady and Saint Joseph, and then, do as many somersaults as you like!

Did you ever count on this happening, Georgette? I did not. In a small recess of my heart, there was written, in tiny letters, ‘five thousand francs’. And from time to time, for an instant even smaller than the recess and the writing, I would show these three words to Saint Joseph, almost shamefacedly, and then quickly, quickly I would cover them up again, and I blushed at my temerity.

I was really caught out! I saw as if with my own eyes, and I heard, as if with my own ears, Saint Joseph asking me, smilingly, from the depths of his prodigious glory, if I believed that he has the charge and care of the Savings Bank, or not… A reproach from Saint Joseph, even with a smile and ten thousand francs, is not at all pleasant.

I hope very much, dear young lady, that you have not had this trouble, and that on the contrary, you have kept firm in the belief that he could have done more. We can be sure that he has given us what we need for now. And we can also be certain that he will give, in time, whatever else is necessary.

I feel ashamed and embarrassed by my own character, in equal measure.

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 122.

From the children’s home of notre dame de joie

The death of Joseph Ribouchon
To the former members of Notre Dame de Joie

April, 1950.

My dear young men,

I am writing to you on Palm Sunday, on the first day of the week that is, par excellence, the Holy Week, the Sacred Week, and I would like to remind you above all – in accordance with my paternal right and duty – of the obligation to make an Easter Communion.

The majority of Christians, and you are certainly among the majority, receive Holy Communion much more often than just once a year. The Church wishes, however, that we receive Holy Communion at least once, at Eastertide, even if one already has the fine and noble habit of frequent Holy Communion.

Why? Because we might otherwise forget the intimate connection between the sacred host and the cross. Our Lord Jesus is in the sacred host as a victim, that is to say, with the same self-sacrificing intentions as he was on the cross. He enters into us, in order to communicate with us, and to make us, just as he said himself in the Gospels, “live by him and in him, as he lived by his Father and in his Father.” Not belonging to ourselves, but being detached from ourselves, trying to please the Father more than we please ourselves – this is what he himself did, “to the point of death, and death on the Cross”, and this is what he would like to lead us towards, the practice of uniting ourselves with him in the most holy Eucharist, where he dwells, just as he was on the cross.

There is thus a very direct connection between the sacrifice of the Passion, and every Holy Communion, and this is why we must solemnly receive the holy Eucharist at the same time that the Church solemnly celebrates the commemoration of the Passion, in order to recognize, liturgically speaking, through sacramental communion, our consent to do the will of the Father, in his crucified son.

“Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. These words of Saint Paul follow so naturally from the thoughts which I have just offered you, and so it is, my dear young men, that one of your number has been called to live out the second part. Your former fellow-pupil, our dear Joseph Ribouchon, will not read this letter. He is spending these, his final few days on this Earth, at the hospital in Ploërmel.

He was admitted there on Christmas Eve, already too ill for a recovery to be possible, and he will die. I went to see him last Monday, 27th March, and I found him brought down extremely low, but still lucid, and above all, full of abandonment and confidence in God. He told me that he had received extreme unction several days earlier, and he added, “I cannot go on for much longer, but I would much rather be with God than here on Earth.” I embraced him on all your behalves, with great sorrow, as you can imagine, my dear young men, but also, with an inexpressible consolation in my heart.

I wish for you all, and I wish for myself too, the grace of such a death, which is so beautiful because of this simplicity of faith, completely enlightened by hope. Joseph learned here, as you did, the wonderful truths of the Christian faith, which contain the secret of a good life and a good death.

May our shared grieving, and our united prayers, give us a reason to stay true to one another, and stay true too, to everything that the Blessed Virgin, Notre Dame de Joie, has allowed us to give to you, and you to receive. “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 187.

A publisher of “Father of the Youth”

30th December, 1956.

With respect to the freedom to speak as I think… I believe that this liberty relates most particularly to the abundance of joy that I have in living in submission to the Church. Upon a sign from the Holy See, upon a sign from the bishop to whom I am subject, I will put down my pen… with the delightful joy of a child who pleases his mother by his obedience.

The Church knows better than I do how she wishes to be served; my judgment is of no weight at all before hers, and I would rather do nothing, if she wishes it, than to build upon the sand apart from her.

Meanwhile, I will speak freely to the children. I couldn’t do without a canonical position, I would feel a mortal regret to be deprived of it, I would not feel myself to belong enough to the Church. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything any more… It is here that I am sure I am doing what the Church wants me to do, it is here where my treasure lies, and here alone where my heart dwells…

These calls to ill-defined “authorities”… they conform neither to the structure of the Church, nor will they lead anywhere except for controversy.

As for my work, I am not a publicist, I am only that which Father Timon-David called “a father of the youth.” Twenty years ago, I opened this house where I received, and where I raised, abandoned children. I live amongst them, and as I write to you this evening, I have nine of them in my room, making a commotion while waiting for Compline, which we sing every evening, and to which the “volunteers” – there are always more of them than I can accept, as I must keep them on their toes – assist in their albs as pueri cantores. I can tell you that they never tire of Gregorian chant! It is these beloved children, whose feet I kiss every Holy Thursday with all the tenderness of a priest and a father, it is to them that my bishop has devoted whatever strength I have.

Herein lies my dearest obedience, here, where I am sure that I am doing what the Church wishes me to do, it is here where my treasure lies, and thus here alone dwells my heart.

Correspondence, Notre Dame de Joie, p. 220.

One of the pueri cantores